"We have been to other locations in the world, but we have been concentrating on Iquitos, Peru for the last several years.
Mission Creek located on a self-sustaining 40-acre home that was once a Boy Scout Camp during the 1980's has been running as a place of education for the past 15 years. Annually they take their Spring Break and travel to distant lands to help those that are less fortunate, they continue their eight-year support for the citizens of Iquitos, Peru with their Beans and Rice campaign and assisting the citizens with re-building parts of their communities with each visit.
"Taking the trip to Peru really impacted my life," said Niko Granato. The junior from Raymond, once a student at South Bend, started at Mission Creek after seeing the changes in his younger brother. "My brother Derek was going to school out here, and after seeing the changes in him, I decided that maybe this may be the place for me as well."
Granato was looking for a change in his life realizing that he was hanging with the wrong crowd. The influence from his experience at Mission Creek has rekindled his life and his experience with the People of Peru Project has made a lasting impression.
"It almost brought me to tears to see what the people have to put up with there, the homelessness and poverty," said Granato.
Mission Creek started simply as a home for Mary Nell and Galen Ellingsen who were looking for a piece of rural property late in the 1980's.
"When we were looking at property Galen found this parcel and recalled that it was the place used as a Boy Scouts retreat when he was a boy," said Mary Nell.
The family purchased the land, moved out to the location and set up their life out in the woods. With both working, Mary Nell in education and Galen in the maritime industry, they thought that they had found their paradise.
"It would be my sister, Livvie Gates and her twin daughters, Jeanelle and Jeaneen that would take us into the next evolution of Mission Creek.
Gates was looking for a career change and asked her sister, Mary Nell, if she could home school the twins. The girls were so happy with the location and the experience out at Mission Creek that they became the catalyst that would become Mission Creek Christian Outreach Services.
"They came to me and said that it would be great to have a school out here on the property. The next year we applied for non-profit status," said Mary Nell.
And after 15 years the school offers many students the ability to have very focused education coupled with the beauty of nature.
One family, the Huggins has two boys as day students of Mission Creek after looking at several options for the traveling family. Rachel, the mother of Michael and Patrick who have home schooled, been in both private and public school systems and has even tried military schools as her husband is in the Coast Guard, truly believes in what is happening out at Mission Creek and has become apart of the volunteers that make Mission Creek the success that it is today.
"We like the balance of academics and nature that is offered out here, it has been great for the boys," said Huggins.
As part of her duties, Huggins calls herself a jack-of-all-trades helping with anything that she can from kitchen duties to assisting a small math group. As many of the volunteers who come through Mission Creek, each offer a specialty based on education or life experience. And for the kids who attend either as boarder students or day students, they also contribute in more than just gaining a good education, but by helping out on the grounds with special projects that they take on that both serving as part of their education and to add to the ever developing grounds that is Mission Creek.
"We have one student painting a mural that also serves as a fine art project, and another student that is working on a science project looking at the habitat of fish complete with an underwater camera to track them," said Mary Nell.
And if you take a short walk on the grounds another area is being set up as an obstacle course under the supervision of a student and involving several classmates and staff.
"We can focus on the strengths of the students here at Mission Creek, and the Peru mission is just another way to help educate the students that attend the school," said Mary Nell.
"I have been with Mission Creek now 15 years and with the 14 students there are a lot of people (staff and volunteers) who can help the students and give them that one-on-one assistance that they sometimes need. The teacher to student ratio is far better than you will find at traditional public or private schools," said Livvie Gates.
The school offers all the state requirements and sometimes even more as they also have a choir and spend time with music and fine arts.
"It is great to see the change in the students after they have gone to a place like Peru. It is rare that we have to deal with a student that complains about their situation when we visit, and they always rise to the occasion when they are there."
This year will be the ninth trip for the school that only receives funding from tuition and donations.
"We do not get any funding from the federal or state governments. And we are very thankful for the community support that we have received over the years. We just got a donation from a grandmother who had a student attend here years ago," said Mary Nell.
Selena Clayville, 16, a boarder student from Oregon, caught wind of the school from friends and had an opportunity to meet Mary Nell and Galen.
"After meeting Mary Nell and Galen, I decided that this was the school for me," said Clayville, "I have made vast improvements in my people skills and have brought up my academics. The school has taught me a lot not only from basic education but about myself as well."
The school offers the opportunity for students to attend on a daily basis as well as to border during the school year and have attracted students from as far away as Tennessee.
"Seth is our student from Tennessee and is starting to work on college level small engine repair," notes Mary Nell.
They even have a student that started her life in Russia, but came as a local resident looking for help with her academics and hopes to one day become a teacher.
"This will be my fourth trip to Peru and I love to go every year," said Diana Voloshina, a fourth year student of Mission Creek. Voloshina helps the teaching staff by working with the younger kids as a math tutor.
"I would like to become a teacher to help those kids who sometimes have struggles in school," said Voloshina.
To see more about Mission Creek and what they are up to see them at mcoutreach.org.